Pre-Apprenticeship program gets high marks
For many young people in high school, manufacturing earns a “D” – as in dirty, dusty, and dark. You could add dead-end too.
Tom Hudson says that’s a totally outdated view. “Manufacturing provides a fabulous opportunity for a career,” said Hudson, CEO of nth/works in Louisville. “For years, the intelligentsia told us that America could survive as strictly an information economy, a service economy, and that we can outsource all our manufacturing to China or Mexico. Well, that’s just dumb.”
Europe understands. “In Germany and Switzerland, they don’t differentiate between blue collar and white collar. People who work in manufacturing are respected members of the community,” Hudson said. Today’s advanced manufacturing requires brainpower and creativity – not to mention a bright, clean workplace.
nth/works is a metal fabricator that uses high-tech equipment and metallurgical analysis to build parts for the automotive, appliance, hardware, electrical and electronic industries. The company employs 350 people at two plants.
The biggest challenge facing nth/works now is finding skilled workers who see the opportunity within manufacturing. To remedy this, the company partnered with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet and the Kentucky Office of Career and Technical Education to participate in the new, industry-driven pre-apprenticeship program known as Tech-Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK). The program offers registered, certified pre-apprenticeships in a variety of industries.
“I thought we’d encounter a reluctant bureaucracy, but that wasn’t the case at all,” Hudson said. “The folks at J’town, like Debbie Anderson (Engineering Career Theme Specialist for Jeffersontown High) and Marty Pollio (Jeffersontown’s Principal) – they all said, ‘How can we help?’”
In the first year, the company placed five Jeffersontown juniors and seniors with mentors in various parts of the operation. They attend class in the morning and work at nth/works in the afternoon. They are paid and treated like regular employees. At the end of the program they have not only a high school diploma, but also valuable experience and a certificate confirming their skills from the National Institute for Metalworking. And the company has a trained prospective employee, ready to contribute immediately.
“Companies like nth/works, Atlas Machine, Whitworth Tool and others have realized the potential of this program and are utilizing the opportunity to get the best of the best students into their facilities,” said Mary Taylor, Business and Industry Liaison with the Office for Career and Technical Education. “This program is tailored to deliver top quality students to the industry with the skills that they themselves have chosen to meet their needs.”
About a dozen companies are participating in TRACK now. Mike Donta, Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, said the program is right on track. “There’s a skill shortage in manufacturing that we haven’t experienced in many years,” he said. The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes 1,200 occupations as “apprenticeable,” he said, “and new opportunities need to be explored so we may create a skilled workforce that the employers in Kentucky so desperately need.”